Things We Learned » National review

National review

There were lots of things to take out of Saturday’s Randox Health Grand National.

There was the number of finishers for starters – 19 for your information, in case you lost count after Pleasant Company (ninth) with 14 more lengths back to Houblon Des Obeaux in 10th – and everyone home safe and well once more, which can only be a good thing. 

You can understand the point of view, though, of the people who say that they have gone too far, that they have softened the race just as much as they have softened the bellies of the fences.

There were just four fallers, which is quite incredible in a Grand National, a race in which in days of yore – five years ago or more qualifies, Before the Changes (BC) – if you didn’t have more than four fallers at the first fence it was an unusual year. 

So four fallers, four unseats, no brought downs (Vicente at the first was borderline).  The rest of the non-finishers, 13, were pulled up.  So it was the distance and the pace that got them, not the fences.

Of those 13 pulled-uppers, three were pulled up at the second last fence, four were pulled up before the last, and two, O’Faolains Boy and Rogue Angel, were actually pulled up after they had jumped the last.  So 21 horses jumped around all 30 fences and 28 of them jumped 28 of the 30 fences. 

The bookmakers usually pitch the number of finishers in the National somewhere between 16 and 18 so, mental note, next year, unless the ground is decidedly soft, go long.  It’s not the jumping test that it used to be.

Other elements to note.  It was a race that was run at a fast pace, and that suited the hold-up horses.  Derek Fox gave the winner One For Arthur a ride that belied the rider’s inexperience.  A National debutant, Fox allowed his horse creep and creep, sat still and allowed his horse make his ground with his jumping, and delivered him with the perfect run to lead on the run to the last.

The strong early pace facilitated such a ride, a creeping ride and, in hindsight, it is apparent that those who raced prominently were probably at a significant disadvantage.  Eleven of the first 12 home were positioned in mid-division or worse through the early stages of the race.  The member of the first dozen home who was further forward was Saint Are, who proved once more what a National stalwart he is by finishing third under Davy Russell.  Tom George’s horse is the modern day The Pilgarlic.

The eight-year-olds came to the fore once more: the winner and the fourth home Blaklion were both eight.  Indeed, three of the 10 eight-year-olds in the race finished in the first six.  And the experience-to-potential ratio held true again.  Eight of the previous 11 National winners had run between 10 and 14 times over fences and, numbered among the 17 horses who filled that criterion in this year’s renewal were the winner One For Arthur and the fourth-placed Blaklion. 

The weight thing also held true again: 10 of the first 11 home carried less than 11 stone.  So in the five renewals of the National since the latest modifications to the course were carried out, 16 of the 20 places have been filled by horses who were carrying 10st 13lb or less.  Next year, start at the bottom of the handicap and work your way up. 

No Irish-trained winners

Some change, Cheltenham to Aintree.  They say that Aintree is very different to Cheltenham.  And how.  Nineteen Irish-trained winners at Cheltenham, none at Aintree.  Not one.

Gordon Elliott had two seconds, including Cause Of Causes in the Grand National, and Joseph O’Brien had a second and Henry de Bromhead had a second and Jessica Harrington had a second and Graham McKeever had a second.  And Pat Griffin and Noel Meade had a third each.

But here’s the difference.  Gordon Elliott had six runners at Aintree, Henry de Bromhead also had six, Noel Meade also had six, Willie Mullins had two, Jessica Harrington had one.  It’s a different meeting all right.

At least Robbie Power and Barry Geraghty continued to fire in the winners.  Between them, Power and Geraghty rode seven of the 21 winners, one-third.  Geraghty rode three seconds too, from a total of 10 rides.  Power only had one second, but he only had two other rides, and one of them was on 33/1 shot Regal Encore in the Grand National.

Power had two rides on Friday, Fox Norton and Pingshou, and they both won.  And he won on his first two rides on Saturday too, Finian’s Oscar and Sizing Codelco.  That was four from four.  It has been some month for Robbie Power, 15th March to 8th April inclusive, he is riding out of his skin, he is getting the recognition that he is due now on both sides of the water.  And when he and Supasundae went toe-to-toe with Yanworth on Barry Geraghty at the end of the Liverpool Hurdle on Saturday, he must have been surprised that they had to give best.

Power held onto the leading rider’s armband that Geraghty had handed over to him as he pulled up on Finian’s Oscar after landing the Mersey Hurdle though.  He wasn’t giving that one back.

Mark up rail runners

The evidence is limited, but it appeared that there was at least a slight advantage to be gained from racing away from the far rail on the straight track at Naas on Sunday.  

T For Tango and Guessthebill, first and second in the opening five-furlong juveniles’ maiden, both raced well away from the far rail.  Sorelle Delle Rose, impressive winner of the six-furlong fillies’ maiden, also raced well away from the far rail, while Camiyra, who chased her home, raced widest of all.  And Rapid Applause and Mizaah, first and second in the six-furlong handicap, raced down the centre of the track.

It was a similar story in the straight on the round course.  Diamond Fields came latest and wisest of all to win the Gladness Stakes.  Air Pilot (one off the rail) ran down leader Success Days (on the rail) close home in the Alleged Stakes.  Aared, who disputed last place as they passed the three-furlong pole in the 10-furlong handicap, came widest and latest of all to win cosily.   And in the concluding 10-furlong maiden, Tocco D’Amore made her ground down the centre of the track under Pat Smullen to post an impressive victory.

Implications?  The horses who raced towards or on the inside rail can probably be marked up at least a little on the bare form of their runs.  This group included Damselfly in the opening juveniles’ maiden, Daisy’s Flyer in the three-year-old fillies’ race, Bubbly Bellini in the six-furlong handicap, Blue De Vega in the Gladness Stakes, Success Days in the Alleged Stakes, Roibeard and Chapter Seven in the 10-furlong handicap, and Clongowes in the concluding 10-furlong maiden.  A few of those might be at least a little under-bet next time they race. 

Amore looks exciting

Tocco D’Amore may have made her ground down the centre of the track in the 10-furlong maiden, but she was seriously impressive in winning, and she is very exciting now. 

Trainer Dermot Weld said afterwards that the fact that he allowed her take on the colts on that, her racecourse debut, was an indication of the regard in which he held her.  The market did not take heed, allowing her go off at 9/1, no better than sixth best in a field of nine, but her performance was more consistent with her trainer’s faith than with the market’s lack of confidence.

Unraced last season as a juvenile, it isn’t just the visual impression of her racecourse debut that makes the Moyglare Stud filly exciting.  There is her price tag too, the fact that Moyglare went to €2 million to secure her at the Goffs Orby Sale in 2015, and her breeding.  By Raven’s Pass, she is out of Spirit Of Tara, a full-sister to Salsabil and a half-sister to Marju, from that famous family from Pat O’Kelly’s Kilcarn Stud. 

It is not surprising that the three-year-old filly holds entries in the Epsom Oaks and in the Irish Oaks, and the Blue Wind Stakes looks like a logical next step for her.  That is a race that her trainer has won three times in the last five years.

Quote of the week

“Nobody remembers seconds, but I’ll never forget this one.”

Jamie Codd

© The Irish Field, 15th April 2017